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Mo. District Cannot Censor LGBT Web Sites, Court Rules

District says that its intent was to abide by the guidelines set forth by the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

Like most districts, the Camdenton (Mo.) R-III School District has filtering software to block content deemed inappropriate for students. Until recently, however, Camdenton was blocking Web sites geared toward supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. On Feb. 15, a federal district court ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a lawsuit filed in August 2011 on behalf of a Camdenton student. According to the court, the district’s custom-built filtering system “systematically allows access to Web sites expressing a negative viewpoint toward LGBT individuals by categorizing them as ‘religion,’ but filters out positive viewpoints toward LGBT issues by categorizing them as ‘sexuality.’”

The district, however, says that its intent was to abide by the guidelines set forth by the Children’s Internet Protection Act and that the blocking of the sites was a script error in the filtering system. “We reconfigured the system,” says Superintendent Brian Henry. “The plaintiffs’ Web sites were unblocked on Feb. 10, and our IT department addressed the changes Feb. 11—before the court made its final ruling.”

Web sites blocked by the filter included PFLAG National (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Campus Pride and Dignity USA, which is a Catholic LGBT organization. The district argued that it would unblock individual Web sites upon request, but the court responded by saying, “Students may be deterred from accessing websites expressing a positive view toward LGBT individuals either by the inconvenience of having to wait twenty-four hours for access or by the stigma of knowing that viewpoint has been singled out as less worthy by the school district and the community.” “It is absolutely possible to protect children from sexually explicit content while also protecting their First Amendment rights,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project, in a statement released by the ACLU.

Going forward, the Camdenton District says it will comply with the court’s decision and it has no intention on appealing the ruling, says Henry. “We do not want to discriminate against any of our students,” he says. “We support our students’ rights to receive information.”